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  • 00:06

    LESLIE CURRY: Hi, I'm Leslie Curry from the YaleSchool of Public Health.Welcome back to our series on qualitative research methods.[Developing a qualitative research question]This module is on developing a qualitative research question.[Overview of the modules]To remind us an overview of the modulesour goal in this series, is to enhance our capacityto conceptualize design and conduct qualitative researchin the health sciences.

  • 00:27

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: There are six modules in the series.The first is what is qualitative research?The second, developing a qualitative research question.The third and fourth address major qualitative studydesigns, interviews, and focus groups.The fifth presents an overview of qualitative data analysisand the last module addresses the issue of scientific rigor

  • 00:47

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: and qualitative research.This module-- in this module willexplore developing a qualitative research question.[Well formed questions are key to good research]Well-formed questions are key to good researchfor a number of reasons.First, a well-formed research questiondefines the purpose of the research.This is very important to set boundaries

  • 01:10

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: around the edges of our research questionto identify the gap in the literaturethat we are trying to address.Well-formed research questions canhelp us determine the appropriate methods in orderto answer that question.We don't want to begin with--I have students who come to me and say,I want to do a study using focus groupsor I'd like to do a study using interviews with patients

  • 01:34

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: and family members.Well, we don't start with a methodology,rather we start with the research question.The knowledge gap that we're trying to fill.And work then in that direction to determining the methodologythat suits that question.A well-formed research question can alsoguide our study planning.So if we are very precise in scripting our research

  • 01:54

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: question, this will help us in guiding effortsto allocate resources and time in order to implement the studyand provide enough time for analysis and reporting.And lastly, a well-formed research question is critical.It's important in quantitative methodsas well, but critical and qualitative

  • 02:15

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: methods for helping frame the analysis and the findings.As we'll see in the modules on in-depth interviewsand focus groups, these approachesgenerate voluminous amounts of data, oftenhundreds of pages of narrative transcripts.And many potential directions could

  • 02:35

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: be followed in the analysis.A well scoped research question will remind uswhat is the primary focus of this questionand will help us focus ourself in both the analytic processand in the dissemination, the writing of the findings.[Topics suited for qualitative research]So there are a number of topics that are well suitedfor qualitative research.

  • 02:57

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: Let's review together just a few examples.The first is the role of organizational contextin implementing a new technology or practice.So for example, you might imagineelectronic medical records, and a new software for EMRbeing implemented in a primary care clinic setting.

  • 03:18

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: What is the role of the organizationalon the broader environment in the implementingof that technology.What are the barriers and facilitatorsin that specific environment.A second broad array of topics are complex social processes.You might imagine the dynamics between formal and informalcaregivers, and caring for a frail

  • 03:41

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: homebound older adult living in the community.What are those dynamics like?The third, patient perceptions of healthcare access and quality.In this instance, we might be interestedin the patient experience of informed consentdiscussions with a physician.And lastly, the beliefs and motivations underlying health

  • 04:04

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: behaviors is a potential focal area for qualitative research.For example, what is an individual's preferencearound preventive screening procedures for breast canceror colon cancer.So these are just some-- give youa sense of some topics that are wellsuited for a qualitative methodology,but of course there are a whole range of possibilities.

  • 04:27

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: [Conceptualizing a qualitative research question]So let's move to conceptualizing a qualitative researchquestion.What does it mean to develop a question that'sgoing to give us those benefits that we reviewed earlier?First, a qualitative research questionmust be inductive and exploratory.We don't come to the question with any assumptions

  • 04:48

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: or hypotheses about what is going on,rather very open exploration of the phenomenon of interest.A qualitative research question isframed as a research question, an aim, or objective.Again there are no hypotheses that we'resetting out to test for study.

  • 05:10

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: Conceptualizing a research question in qualitativetraditions really requires very careful attention to focusingon a single phenomenon, concept , or idea.Again, because the risk--the risk is that there will be much generatedby way of the data that may be relevant to our topic,but also perhaps tangential.

  • 05:31

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: So the focus is really very critical for feasibilityand for answering that particular gap with precision.[Writing a research question]So let's look at writing a research question.We begin a research question stating the goal using a verb.So common verbs are to characterize, to describe,

  • 05:52

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: to understand.The second principle in writing a research questionis to identify the topic of interest.So we begin with our verb, we're goingto characterize, understand, describe.And then the topic of interest.What is it specifically that this research studywill address.

  • 06:13

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: Important to use neutral or non-directional language.This gets back to the principle of being exploratory.Again, we don't have assumptions.So we're not looking for instance onlyto facilitators of adoption of a new practice in a hospitalsetting, but rather non-directionally exploring

  • 06:33

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: the process of implementation itself,both positive and negative dimensions.A research question must define the sample and the setting.Again, with as much precision as possible.The precision is really critical in a qualitative researchquestion.Again, because it gives boundaries to the question.

  • 06:54

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: So let's review together some sample qualitative researchquestions.[Sample qualitative research questions]This first question was from a studydone by a clinical scholar in the Robert Wood Johnson programKelly Doran, who is interested in the care of patientsin the emergency department.This is the research question for her study.She sought to understand interpersonal and system level

  • 07:18

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: factors relevant to delivering healthcare to emergency department patients who are homeless.So if we look back at those guiding principles,we begin with a verb.We're going to understand this phenomenon.We named the topic with boundariesaround the edges of what we're interested in looking at.He or she was very clear to say she

  • 07:40

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: was interested in both interpersonal and system levelfactors that might be relevant to delivering care in the end.And again, what is the patient setting--the patient population and the setting?She's interested in patients who are homeless.And so this very clearly outlines the objectiveof her particular research study.

  • 08:02

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: Let's look at another example.Here a study by Emily Cherlin and her team,here at the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute.This is a study interested in hospital performance and careof patients with heart attacks.And the research question for this projectwas to identify hospital discharge processes that

  • 08:22

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: may be associated with better performance in hospitalAMI care as measured by mortality rates.So here again, you have the verb,she's going to identify these processes-- the topic itselfand the setting.And lastly, this study our team undertook hereat the Global Health Leadership Institute

  • 08:44

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: to describe the experiences of peoplewho are in leadership roles in sub-Saharan Africa.And this research question is to characterize the experiencesof individuals and key health care leadership rolesin sub-Saharan Africa.So again, to name the topic, the population, and the settingvery clearly in the research question.[Critiquing a research question]

  • 09:06

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: So let's take a couple of minutes together to critiquea research question.This is a question brought to me by a student.He was interested in contraception use broadly,and he came with this research question.The purpose of this study is to understand the knowledge,attitudes, beliefs, preferences and barriers regarding

  • 09:30

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: contraception use among women.So if we pass this a little bit against the criteriathat we reviewed earlier, we wantto be careful that the study as it's defined in the researchquestion is feasible.And that there are boundaries that are manageable.And that the specific phenomenon we're interested in

  • 09:51

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: is very clear.So here, if be looking at the topicas being knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, preferencesand barriers, it's really quite a waterfront to cover,frankly impossible-- maybe in our lifetimes.And also we want to be precise about the settingand the population.Women is just rather broad.

  • 10:13

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: So we work together to craft a question thatwould meet those criteria that we reviewed together earlier.And the final question looked like this.The study was to characterize barriers to contraception use.So very specifically focused on the barriers themselves.Among young Latina women at high risk for unintended pregnancy.

  • 10:38

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: This question addressed a very specific gap in the literature.Was clearly much more feasible to implement,and very precise in the nature of whatwas going to be looked at in terms of the data collectionand analysis focusing.[Concluding comments]So a few concluding comments.

  • 10:60

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: A well developed research questionis essential for the success of a study for the reasonsthat we've described.So it's not as simple as it seems, and yet it'scritically important to the success of a study.So spend time developing and honing your research question.Invest time in defining the knowledge gap,really so important .

  • 11:22

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: To be sure that we are, in fact contributingto the advancement of Science.And so really critical to master the literatureto know what is known and what is notknown about your focal topic.Ensure the question is feasible.If we think back to the study on contraception,unpacking all of those dimensions of contraception use

  • 11:44

    LESLIE CURRY [continued]: among women would not have been feasible.Use the research question to guide the choice of methodand set the boundaries for analysis.Finally, this applies to really all the research that we do.Be sure it passes the "so what" test.Thank you for your attention.


Leslie Curry, PhD, MPH, Professor of Public Health, Yale College, in this second module of the fundamentals of qualitative research series, discusses developing a qualitative research question including suitable topics, conceptualizing, writing, sample research questions, and critiquing.

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Developing a Qualitative Research Question

Leslie Curry, PhD, MPH, Professor of Public Health, Yale College, in this second module of the fundamentals of qualitative research series, discusses developing a qualitative research question including suitable topics, conceptualizing, writing, sample research questions, and critiquing.

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